Do you remember the MyPyramid model for eating? Yeah, those were the days! Today the federal government’s new food icon, MyPlate, was created to serve as a reminder to help you make healthier food choices. MyPlate is a new generation icon with the intent to prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and with practice, help develop healthy eating habits!
MyPlate focuses primarily on WHAT to eat and provides suggestions (not rules!) for HOW MUCH to eat to achieve a well-rounded diet. Healthy eating habits do not only revolve around WHAT we eat, but also WHY, WHEN, and HOW we eat. (See our Overcoming Emotional Eating and Do you Trust YOU with your Eating articles) Let’s focus on the WHAT and HOW MUCH in this article.
WHAT to Eat? More Nutrient Dense Foods
The MyPlate icon emphasizes consumption of fruit, vegetable, grains, lean protein, and low fat dairy to align with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The message here is to not feel restricted from some of your favorite foods, but rather aim to find a happy balance between what you enjoy eating with eating for nourishment from the 5 food groups. Nutrient dense foods are simply foods that aren’t tagged by human processing, that offer what our bodies need from food (macronutrients) in their best form. Every vitamin and mineral we take in has a purpose-our bodies regulate everything we take in from cholesterol, to sodium, protein, healthy fats etc and your body knows exactly what to do with it. When we don’t give our bodies what it needs or we throw too much of one thing and too little of another in it such as cholesterol, calories, saturated fat, that is when health problems arise. If we do our body a favor and eat more nutrient rich foods, you’ll naturally eat less, receive more vitamins, minerals, fiber, take in less cholesterol, trans fat, and you’ll FEEL the difference in your energy, sleep cycle, strength, and eventually you’ll SEE the difference from weight loss if you’re trying to lose weight. Let’s walk through each food group together…
Fruits & Vegetables
MyPlate suggests to make half your plate fruits and vegetables of all colors! Each fruit and vegetable provide different nutrients so it’s suggested you paint your plate when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Have fun with it! Try seasonal favorites, even Google ways you can incorporate a fruit or vegetable that may intimidate you. Make sure you include fruits/veggies that YOU enjoy, keeping in mind it may take a few tries before really like a new food. How do we expect to keep these healthy eating habits going if we don’t enjoy what we eat?
Fruits: Fresh and frozen is preferred versus canned. The skin of most fruits is where most nutrients sit, so have a whole pear instead of canned sliced pears in natural juice if possible. If you are a juice drinker, try squeezing a fresh orange for your morning routine versus buying a standard juice where a lot of the nutrients have been compromised.
Vegetables are divided into 5 subgroups, again, fresh and frozen many times (not always) is more preferred:
Dark-green vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned dark-green leafy vegetables and broccoli, cooked or raw: for example, broccoli; spinach; romaine; collard, turnip, and mustard greens.
Red and orange vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned red and orange vegetables, cooked or raw: for example, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin.
Beans and peas (legumes): All cooked beans and peas: for example, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, and pinto beans. Does not include green beans or green peas. (If you rarely or never eat meat, beans/peas/legumes will serve primarily as a protein food, secondary as vegetable).
Starchy vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned starchy vegetables: for example, white potatoes, corn, green peas.
Other vegetables: All fresh, frozen, and canned other vegetables, cooked or raw: for example, iceberg lettuce, green beans, and onions.
Message to consumers is to make at least HALF of your grains from whole grain sources to take advantage of the various vitamins, minerals, fiber, and easy source of energy. Whole grains include the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel. The kernel consists of three components—the bran, germ, and endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed, or flaked, then, to be called a “whole grain” a food must retain the same relative proportions of these components as they exist in the intact grain. So when it’s processed one of these 3 components is missing.
Whole grains are consumed either as a single food (e.g., wild rice or popcorn) or as an ingredient in foods (e.g., in cereals, breads, and crackers). Some examples of whole-grain ingredients include buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, brown or wild rice, whole-grain barley, whole rye, and whole wheat.
Common Question is: “What is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain?” The answer is another question: “What is the difference between a carrot and a vegetable?”We all know that all carrots are vegetables but not all vegetables are carrots. It’s similar with whole wheat and whole grain: Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat.
No longer called the “Meat & Beans” group, this change was brought about to emphasize the importance of consuming a balanced variety of LEAN protein sources from seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, dry beans & peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts & seeds. Most Americans eat enough foods from the protein foods group, but there are a lot of foods in this group that are high in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Developing healthy eating habits eating foods from this group that are “lean” or low in fat, is a great way to get the protein that your body needs without getting too much fat in your diet.
Protein functions as “building blocks” for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood and is one of three macronutrients (the other two are carbohydrates and fat) which provide calories that the body uses for energy. Each gram of protein provides four calories. The body takes longer to digest protein than carbohydrates. Including a lean protein source at meals and snacks leads to more satisfaction and less hunger due to this increased digestion time. Less hunger is likely to lead to decreased food intake throughout the day, helping with weight maintenance.
To go lean with protein, first start with a lean choice by making wise choices in the grocery store. Some tips to make healthy choices when shopping, include:
- The leanest beef cuts such as round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder or arm roasts
- The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
- Choose extra lean ground beef. Look for labels that say at least “90% lean”.
- Buy skinless chicken parts or take off the skin before cooking.
- Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham for sandwiches instead of higher fat options such as bologna or salami.
Fat Free and Low Fat milk are more nutrient dense than higher fat dairy products. Increase your intake of fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages. Dairy as many know is linked to improved bone health but it’s also connected to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and lowering blood pressure in adults. If you are drinking whole milk, gradually switch to lower fat options. If you are drinking whole milk, go to 2% and move on down to 1% low-fat or fat-free milk. It’s suggested up to 3 cups of dairy a day depending on your calorie needs. Soy beverages fortified with calcium and A and D ARE considered part of the dairy group because they are similar to milk both nutritionally and in their use in meals. When choosing soy milk, be sure to choose USDA Organic.
Foods to Reduce: sodium, added sugars, and refined grains
Are these foods off limits? No. When it comes to the balance of eating for enjoyment and eating for nourishment, keep the moderation to having higher sodium foods, refined grains, or foods with added sugars on less frequent basis. A little is ok! “Healthy” in “healthy eating habits” includes balance, variety, and moderation. You’re human!
Sodium: Those that should pay even closer attention to keeping their sodium intake to 1500mg on a more daily basis are African Americans ages 2+, Adults ages 51+, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Check labels, avoid putting salt on the table, use other sodium free seasonings.
Added Sugars: Reduce sugar-sweetened beverages with added sugar by drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, consuming smaller portions, substituting water, unsweetened coffee and tea, and other beverages with few or no calories. Sometimes when people see the word “sugar” on the Nutrition Facts Label of a food that has “naturally occurring” sugar, such as milk, fruit, or some vegetables, they may feel they shouldn’t eat it. These aren’t the focus or the concern. However, unless a person had to monitor total carbohydrate, it is the “added” sugars that are the concern. See our blog post 8 Ways to Reduce Added Sugars.
Refined Grains: These are grains that are highly processed where much of the nutrient composition is compromised in its production, sadly. Slowly integrate more whole grains in place of refined grains such as doing a half and half mix of white rice and brown rice to help you acclimate. You may be surprise you actually prefer the taste of whole grains before it’s all said and done!
The bottom line is that there is no one size fit solution for everyone regarding what one “should” be eating. Use nutrition information as a tool to help you make your own decisions about what works best for you. You may find you feel better with a little more lean protein in your diet, or slightly less dairy then what is suggested by MyPlate. That’s ok! MyPlate helps give you a visual of a well-rounded diet to encourage you to explore all food groups and benefit from all the nutrients they have to offer you. After all, food is fuel! For more information, handouts, and tools for yourself and your family, you can check out www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. Thank you for reading and I hope you found it helpful!
Licensed Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Facilitator
TNT Nutrition Coach
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